Mark Lardas, US Destroyers vs German U-Boats (Osprey, 2023)
Of all the high risk combat in World War II, the cat and mouse manoeuvres of German U-Boats and American destroyers must rank near the top. One mistake, one stroke of luck, or one superior tactical decision could send a vessel to the bottom of the sea. This new volume in Osprey’s Duel series takes us out into the frigid Atlantic for some searing action.
For 45 months between September 1941 and May 1945, U-Boats and US Destroyers fought thousands of engagements. Lardas notes that most led to no result, but others developed into intense combat with one or the other, or sometimes both, being sunk. He adds that these fights were usually one-to-one, the Americans were rarely involved in fighting the notorious wolfpacks. Moreover, the Americans adopted aggressive methods and increasingly hunted down the hunters.
After a brief chronology of engagements, Lardas narrates the development of destroyers and their role in escorting convoys. He repeats that treatment for the U-Boats, Lardas noting that their early war superiority declined as the Allies introduced new technologies to hunt them down. Lardas moves on to describe the strategies and tactics deployed by both sides, starting with British efforts before the Americans entered the war in December 1941, though they were already involved in the Atlantic in a period of armed neutrality. Then we are into technical specifications for propulsion, weapons, and electronics, followed by a survey of the men who fought. Lardas remarks on the competence and capability of the Americans at all levels in the service, while the all-volunteer U-Boat crews were often the best young men Germany had to offer. Then Lardas focuses in on some individual combats between destroyers and U-Boats. In his concluding analysis of this cat-and-mouse warfare, Lardas notes the fearful casualties sustained by the U-Boats, though US destroyers accounted for only a small percentage of those. When U-Boats were hit, moreover, they tended to go down with all hands, while a destroyer could survive a torpedo hit reasonably well. Lardas closes with a brief but useful reading list for those who want to know more.
US Destroyers vs German U-Boats is an enjoyable introduction into something of a sideshow in the greater Battle of the Atlantic, though none of the men involved on both sides would have thought that way. Lardas writes well and clearly knows his material, and he is ably supported by Osprey’s usual excellent illustrations, including some 3D colour graphics and maps. Naval history readers, in particular, will appreciate this book, but it is not out of reach for even the most dedicated landlubber wanting to get their reading feet wet.